Following the rapid consultation on remote hearings in the family courts, the National Family Justice Observatory compiled a very comprehensive report. Following the issuing of the report, the President of the Family Division requested that we put forward our views on whether the issuing of national guidance would be helpful. We have sent a consultation response to the President.
The Law Society welcomed the opportunity to put forward our views on this matter. It is an extremely complex picture and we are very grateful that the President is taking the time to fully appreciate it.
The issuing of national guidance would help to increase consistency in the family courts. While we consider consistency important, consistency for consistency’s sake could have an impact on access to justice and the rule of law.
If certain types of hearings are adjourned for all courts, important family law proceedings could be halted. We consider this particularly concerning for care proceedings where delays could adversely impact the well-being of a child. However, where any parties will be disadvantaged in going ahead with hearings, access to justice could be hindered.
Many aspects must be considered in deciding whether a hearing should go ahead. Those put forward in our letter included the type of technology available for the hearing, whether parties themselves consider that the hearing must progress, whether any of the parties are vulnerable or require interpreters, whether the case concerns domestic abuse, whether the case involves litigants in person and whether there have been any issues with members representing clients.
We advocated for a ‘best practice’ or ‘top tips’ document to be put forward, rather than full prescriptive guidance, and recommended that data on the remote hearings being heard or not heard be collated. We also put views forward on the recovery period and the work being undertaken to reopen family courts.
The letter was sent on 12 May. We expect a response from the President soon.